Gifted (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan. Runtime: 1h 41 min. 

Marc Webb’s first return to indie after directing the two Amazing Spider-Man films is remarkable, and it’s also refreshing that Chris Evans does intimate indies like this in between his Captain America outings.

In Gifted, a sweet family dynamic is explored as a single man Frank Adler (Evans) is raising his niece in a small Florida town. His niece, seven-year-old Mary (Mckenna Grace) isn’t like other children at all; she’s a child prodigy in mathematics. She’s been homeschooled the first part of her life after her mother died, and now Frank is realizing she doesn’t have great social skills and puts her in first grade in public school.

Frank’s drawn into a custody battle with his estranged mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), because once Evelyn learns that Mary’s a prodigy – she wants to bring her into a life dedicated to mathematics.

The custody battle drives the plot and it’s interesting because there’s merit to both arguments. Evelyn doesn’t want Mary’s potential to be wasted, and Frank’s fighting to give Mary a normal childhood even though she’s an extraordinary little girl. Lindsay Duncan is great as Frank’s mom, the character’s hard but she has good moments in the role, and even though she’s the opposition of the custody battle, it’s so well-written that there’s still some sympathy for the character. It’s intriguing seeing the backstory of her relationships with her children.

Gifted - Mckenna, Chris

Mckenna Grace and Chris Evans in Gifted. (Source)

As for the main cast, the chemistry between Chris Evans and Mckenna Grace is magical. You wholly believe they’re uncle and niece and the development of their relationship and characters is great. Their fights tug at the right heartstrings and the film’s a true tear-jerker. The chemistry also helps a predictable story become one of 2017’s most charming films.

Mckenna Grace is also a great young actress, and since she lost her two front teeth before filming, she’s that much cuter. She’s funny and captures the sass and attitude in the role. It’s funny when she’s sassy not because she’s adorable, but that the lines are so good and she has so much energy that it’s so much fun watching her. She’s just like a real kid having fun, and like her character, just trying to be a kid. She also has a convincing emotional range.

The character makes math fun because she’s so passionate about it and when Frank tries to close her homework so she plays outside, she just opens another book. Her hunger to learn is almost contagious.

Chris Evans is also fantastic. The character’s strong because he’s vulnerable and realistic, since he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he’s trying his best. He wants what’s best for Mary, and he’s trying to raise Mary how he thinks his sister would have wanted. He’s fighting for normalcy for her. I also loved how he doesn’t try to influence her when forming opinions and wants her to choose things for herself and grow her independence. He’s becoming a bit of a new superhero, fighting for his niece.

There’s a scene where Frank and Mary are silhouettes in front of a sunset on a Florida beach (well, it’s filmed in Georgia) and Frank is holding her hand and Mary’s walking up his legs. They’re having a conversation that shows that Frank doesn’t want to influence her beliefs in anything. Their chemistry and Marc Webb’s direction make this little charming scene because it’s so intimately done and so human. It’s engaging and unique, and it works so well because their relationship feels so convincing.

Gifted - Mckenna, Octavia

Octavia Spencer and Mckenna Grace in Gifted. (Source)

It’s also little scenes like this and scenes like Mary singing with neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) that make this so damn charming and memorable. The movie’s a drama and while it’s sappy, the sentiments ring true and you get lost in everything the characters go through.

Some of the film’s heartbreaking and there’s a lot of funny material and some big laughs. It’s one of those films that I can say made me laugh and cry, and it has a surprising ability to do both at the same time. This is just such an engaging custody battle and a story about trying to be a good parent and doing what’s best for your kid.

The supporting cast’s also memorable. Jenny Slate (Zootopia) is Mary’s teacher Bonnie and she’s part of some funny moments. Octavia Spencer is good friends with Frank and Mary and their landlady. She has a lot of big laughs, too, and she’s a delight to watch. There’s also a one-eyed cat named Fred that’s a scene-stealer.

The story’s sometimes predictable but it has a few surprises, and the performances and engaging story it tells make it a film not to be missed – even if math bores the hell out of you.

Score: 90/100

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Released: May 2, 2014. Directed by: Marc Webb. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 142 min.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proves you can only have as many as three villains in a film to have the narrative still remain coherent. The tightly packed narrative makes the film have minor pacing issues – but this is still a heck of a lot of fun and a great follow-up to a solid introduction. It’s at least not Spider-Man 3 all over again, because at least we’re spared from unlikable stretches with the main character – but a difference is Garfield will still be mildly tolerable. I think Marc Webb is too smart to do that all over again.

The film finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) in his most personal battle yet. He’s still trying to find out why his parents had to leave, which is a good mystery that fits well into the narrative but packs it tighter. He sees Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) father everywhere he goes, unable to shake his promise he made to stay away from Gwen to keep her out of danger. The super villain of this film is a cool villain called Electro (Jamie Foxx). His battles become more personal when Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) comes back into town after the death of his father. Peter comes to realize that a lot of things that happen in his life and that affect him enemy-wise revolve around one thing: Oscorp.

A personal battle for the characters on-screen, this is also more painful and personal for audience members, more-so fans of the franchise. The urgency audience members will feel for some character’s safety adds intensity to the film. The narrative does well with foreshadowing. Peter’s love for Gwen gives him a layer of vulnerability; you’d think he’d protect her better as Spider-Man by disguising his voice like Batman does. Andrew Garfield plays to his strengths as his character, and he gets a lot more laughs than the last film – losing himself in a Marvel-like and comedic atmosphere. (This is one of Marvel’s funnier films.) His chemistry with Emma Stone is just so easy to love. It’s a great and natural chemistry that makes you tell that the characters work better when they’re in each other’s lives. They’re allowed to play to their emotional strengths as actors, as well; Stone notably in a lovely graduation speech which is very inspiring. Sally Field also has a great scene where she shows her strengths as a dramatic actress.

One part that interests me about the plot is that Parker’s involvement with the Daily Bugle is played down; only mentioned as an income for Peter, and he only e-mails J. Jonah Jameson and never actually goes into the Bugle. I think it’s smart that Webb doesn’t cast a Jameson, because J.K. Simmons is such a great actor to portray the character. Since Peter only e-mails Jameson, which is an arc that makes sense in the digital age, it saves probably saves five minutes that would have just added to the already lengthy 142 minutes that doesn’t need anything more. I don’t like that Spider-Man is so controversial in this film; a lot of people think he should just let the cops do their jobs. He saves a lot more people than the cops ever could; and I think the controversy aspect would be better suited for the titular hero in Kick-Ass. I think the R-rated crime fighting would be a more realistic subject to criticism inside the film.

Anyway, Spidey learns the hard way that he shouldn’t save everyone by saving Max Dillon (Foxx), who later becomes Electro in a freak accident, which is the origins story based more on the one from the classic Marvel universe. I think Max’s motivations are very human, as well – he’s a mild-mannered, insecure guy who wants some attention and to be needed. Foxx gives a cool performance as Electro, with some awesome electric vocal styles. Hans Zimmer also has a lot of fun with the score, making voices in Electro’s head an electric song in its own – most notably during a critical introduction of the villain. He delivers yet another great score, but we rarely expect anything less from him.

Dane DeHaan is great as Harry Osborn. His arc in this reboot is different than the one in the original trilogy – and his human motivation of his own survival is easy to understand and well-written. DeHaan is magnetic as the character, funny at times and chilling at the end; where he receives a make-up job which makes this a physically demanding role. I’ve really liked him as an actor ever since 2012’s Chronicle, particularly his his apex predator monologue. Chris Cooper is disappointingly under-utilized as Norman Osborn, where we only see him in one measly scene on his death bed.

The film has another talented star as a villain, Paul Giamatti – but his limited role is really just a preview for the next film. I’m patient enough to see more development for him next time around, as he works perfectly as a bridge to the next film. Giamatti sports an over-the-top Russian accent and has a lot of fun as Aleksei Sytsevich. It’s funny that, in the beginning, Marc Webb decides to include two introductory action sequences. One with Peter’s father on a plane action sequence; and then it skips to the present day to a car chase with Giamatti’s Russian terrorist. I liked the performances from the antagonists in this film more than Marvel’s last outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think the villain’s motivations are more realistic and easier to understand. Something that also really works for the film is its stunning CGI visual effects, beautifully filmed action sequences and a phenomenal finale in a clock tower. Those memorable scenes, and the film’s humour, make this a ride well worth taking.

Score: 83/100

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man

Release Date: July 3, 2012

Director: Marc Webb

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

Runtime: 136 min

Tagline: His past was kept from him. His search for answers has just begun.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner.

While inferior to Spider-Man 2 of the Sam Raimi trilogy, it’s vastly superior to Spider-Man 3, but it’s a little better than the first Spider-Man. It doesn’t have too many villains, and Marc Webb is a worthy enough director to reboot the great super hero. It doesn’t really ever reach amazing, as Raimi set the bar pretty high, but it is pretty awesome. Granted, The Pretty Awesome Spider-Man doesn’t have a good ring to it.

Peter has to deal with a few situations throughout the feature: some relationship problems, deaths within the family, a police captain, and of course, the Lizard.

Peter is having a few relationship problems with his new girlfriend Gwen Stacy, because he wants to keep her safe. Of course, super heroes are going to have villains. Also, one other relationship problem could arise because he’s never vibrantly exciting. He tells a few jokes, and he has that charming smile he’s always flashing, but that’s about it. Nothing else is virtually off about him, but there aren’t any other notable things about him. No one can forget the great Tobey Maguire, and comparisons between the two are inevitable. Garfield is pretty bland compared to Maguire. Gwen Stacy is a great love choice for Spider-Man. Garfield may be bland when he’s without Stacy (portrayed by Emma Stone), but when the two are together, they’re a pretty fine team. I really like Gwen Stacy, maybe even more than Mary Jane Watson.

Any of you who have seen the original Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, or are generally familiar with the story of Peter Parker, will know which family member of his gets killed off fairly early in the story.  The death of this character brings on solid character development to Peter, as it fills him with a need for vengeance, a trait one would not think of when they hear the word: super hero; but that is one of the primary traits of Parker after this time. Parker’s search for this character’s killer is actually realistic. He goes through a countless number of thugs in search of a man with a star tattoo on his left wrist. This ultimately puts him in the path of a New York police Captain, and that said Police Captain thinks Parker is a vigilant menace, mirroring the character of J. Jonah Jameson.

Compared to Raimi’s first Spider-Man, there are some things this does better, and things it does worse. The introduction to Peter’s new found powers is better, and funnier. Sometimes, the things he does are cooler. Although, no one can forget those “Go go spider web!” or “Up, up and away! ” lines that Maguire uttered in the original Spider-Man. The search for his relative’s killer is more realistic in this, because he just doesn’t find the killer off the bat. Though, if he did find the killer off the bat, it would bring closure much earlier in the story, and Spidey wouldn’t be haunted by that unholy ghost called vengeance.

That whole sub-plot goes on in the first bit of the film, and the actual super villain (in the full Lizard state) doesn’t get fully introduced until after the one-hour mark. Dr. Curt Connors has motivations that are quite easy to understand. He only has one arm, so he has a raging jealousy of lizards because they can regrow limbs. His motivations are easy to understand, but his master plan… not so much. He wants to turn everyone into lizards. Sure, we’ll be stronger and faster, but everyone’s more content being human… We’ll have scaly skin, and even a year supply of hand and skin lotions can’t cure that.

While it probably won’t enter the reboot series status of something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it still makes the sequels look promising. There are some great action sequences, dramatic scenes and plot development, and it’s a great introduction to a new Spider-Man series. Garfield may make for an often unfunny Spider-Man, as all the jokes are given to Police Captain Stacy, Gwen, Uncle Ben and Aunt May; but maybe the writers will give him a little more flare and heart in the sequels.

75/100